A SAFETY watchdog has raised concerns about the “potential risks to the health and welfare of patients” attending hospitals in counties Louth and Meath.
The concerns by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) have prompted a new system of close monitoring to be set up.
The new initiative involves Health Service Executive (HSE) staff reporting regularly on how the risks are being managed.
The hospitals being monitored in Louth and Meath are Louth County Hospital, Dundalk; Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda; and Our Lady’s Hospital, in Navan.
According to a report by The Irish Independent, a circular from HIQA emphasises the “serious nature of the concerns regarding the services in the north east”.
Dated early December 2010, the circular warned there must be regular updates and assurance from staff to ensure that the health and welfare of the public was not compromised.
HIQA has demanded regular updates on the level of cover provided by anaesthetists at the hospitals and also assurance from the HSE that it is properly reviewing incidents where patients may have been put at risk or harmed.
There have been critical shortages of junior doctors at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Last year, hospitals in the North East were particularly hit by a shortage of anaesthetists due to a problems recruiting enough specialists.
According to a HSE Dublin North East spokesperson, the HSE is “working actively with HIQA to ensure our services are of a high quality and safe for our patients”.
The HSE added that it has embarked on an overseas recruitment campaign to secure the services of enough anaesthetist specialists.
Last December the HSE Dublin North East region had been seeking to recruit junior doctors or non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) in anaesthetics and paediatrics to “permanent” posts, which would command salaries of e120,000 a year for a 50-hour week.
The HSE spokesperson said it had also put in place a “contingency plan” which included the opening of a new emergency department in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.